Why Ankle Weights Add Power to Your Workout

Woman at gym putting ankle weights

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If you are looking to begin a strength training routine, or up the ante on your current one, you may not immediately think of adding ankle weights. But those small additions to your workout may be worth considering.

Ankle weights are simply weights that you wrap around your ankles to increase strength and improve endurance. They can also be used to strengthen specific areas of your body that may be harder to target with dumb bells. Whether you are walking, jogging, or doing body weight training, ankle weights are an easy and portable way to make your muscles work harder.

When used incorrectly or overused, ankle weights may cause injury. However, when used correctly or under the supervision of a physical therapist, they are a great addition to almost any workout.

How to Use Ankle Weights

You'll want to select ankle weights between 1% and 2% of your body weight. Certain weights have removable sandbags so you can change the weight for different difficulty levels.

If you plan on walking or jogging with ankle weights, start by wearing them a few days a week for a short period of time—slowly build up from there. Be sure to consult a physician or physical therapist for specific recommendations that meet your individual needs and goals.

If you are using ankle weights as part of your workout, you can do different exercises to activate your hips, glutes, hamstrings, quadriceps, and calves. Leg lifts, glute lifts, and leg rotations are some common exercises to do with ankle weights to target specific areas of your body.

Benefits of Ankle Weights

Ankle weights have many benefits, whether you are just walking with them or implementing new moves in your workout. While bodyweight exercise is efficient, adding weights to your body forces you to exert more force than you are accustomed to.

Improves Walking Mechanics

You may not think you can or should improve the way you walk, but it turns out that working on your walking mechanics is helpful for reducing injury risk and improving stamina. Research shows that using ankle weights (within 1-2% of a person's weight) improved walking mechanics in otherwise healthy adults. In fact, walking with added weight is reported to be more effective than normal walking for exercise to activate lower leg muscles.

In one study, males and females with no lower limb injuries for 6 months walked two meters with ankle weights 0%, 1%, and 2% of the individual's body weight. Walking velocity, step length, cadence, stride, and stride rate were measured. There was significant change in walking distance between the 0% group and 1% group and between the 1% group and 2% group. There were also significant changes in walking velocity and cadence between the groups.

The results indicate that walking with ankle weights may be effective for improving several walking measurements in adults without injuries.

May Reduce Body Fat

Similar to other forms of resistance training, adding ankle weights to your workout routine may reduce body fat and increase muscle mass.

A 2016 study examined the effect of light resistance training using ankle-wrist weights on anthropometric parameters and body composition of adults. The study participants were given ankle weights to wear during daily activities three days a week for at least 20 minutes. Body mass index (BMI), waist circumference, waist-to-hip ratio, body fat percentage, and skeletal muscle percentage were measured at baseline, 6 weeks, 3 months, and 6 months.

While there were no significant changes in the BMI group, there were decreases in waist circumference, waist-to-hip ratio, body fat percentage, and increases in skeletal muscle percentage in the intervention groups. Ankle weights may be a good way to improve anthropometric parameters and body composition as part of your exercise routine.

Improves Knee Joint Positioning

Proprioception—your body's ability to sense movement, location, and action—has been shown to decline with age. Joint positioning sense, which is an element of proprioception, is the ability to reproduce and perceive predetermined joint positions or ranges of motion.

As muscle atrophy and osteoarthritis develops with age, joint positioning declines, resulting in poor stability, balance, and injuries.

One study looked at the effects of ankle weights on knee joint repositioning sense in elderly individuals. 21 subjects were asked to reposition the angle of their knee joint while wearing different ankle weights. The average error values were used as measurement. Knee joint repositioning error was lower with than without ankle weights. Ankle weights may be a helpful tool to maintain and improve knee joint position.

May Prevent Osteoporosis

Strength training and weight-bearing exercise is known to improve bone health and prevent osteoporosis. While walking, doing aerobic activities, and lifting weights are all excellent forms of exercise, adding ankle weights can further increase muscle mass, protect the bones, and improve balance to reduce the risk of falls.

In one study, 33 postmenopausal women did 3 months of strength training. After 3 months, bone formation markers were significantly increased.

Improves Balance

Balance is crucial to walking and performing daily activities. One study used ankle weights in the rehabilitation of stroke patients who were suffering from poor balance. 30 hemiplegic stroke patients were divided into an incremental weight load group and a no-load group. The individuals walked on treadmills wearing ankle weights weighing 3% of body weight for four weeks and then increased to 5%. Both groups showed significant improvements in balance; group wearing ankle weights showed an even greater improvement.

Sample Workout with Ankle Weights

Ankle weights are a great addition to lower-body strength exercises. They are good for single leg exercises, barre, glute, and even yoga workouts to increase the burn. Here are a few moves to try while wearing ankle weights.

High Skips

This move focuses on the core while including some cardio as well. Think about squeezing your lower abs when driving up your knee.

  • Stand with your legs hip-width apart
  • Hop on one leg while driving the other knee to your chest, engaging the lower abs
  • Switch legs
  • Do this for 3 sets of 30 seconds

Knee to Elbow

Still focusing on your abs, this move works your oblique muscles.

  • Stand with your legs hip-width apart
  • Shift your weight to the left leg while lifting your left arm above your head
  • Drive your right knee toward the left side of your body while lowering your elbow to meet your knee
  • Repeat on the other leg
  • Do this for 3 sets of 10 on each leg

Single Leg Crossover

This moves works your triceps, obliques, inner thigh, outer thigh, and glutes, excellent for stability, spinal support, and strengthening.

  • Start on all fours with your hands underneath your shoulders and knees underneath your hips
  • Extend your right leg behind you
  • Keeping your hips squared to the floor, tap your right foot to the right side of your body and then bring it over to the left side of your body
  • Repeat on the other leg
  • Do this for 3 sets of 10 on each side

Straight Leg Raise

This exercise targets your quads for extra strength and stability.

  • Begin lying on your back with one knee bent and the other leg straight
  • Squeeze the thigh muscles in your straight leg and flex your foot
  • Slowly lift your leg until it is parallel with your other thigh
  • Lower your leg back to the starting position and repeat
  • Repeat on the other leg
  • Do this for 3 sets of 10 on each side

Side Hip Adduction

This move works the adductors on the inside of your leg and your core for stability.

  • Begin lying on your side and your top leg bent, foot resting on the floor in front of your other leg
  • Lift your leg with the weight upward, keeping your knee straight, then repeat. Range of motion will be small
  • Make sure to keep your upper body stable and don't let your hips rotate
  • Repeat on the other leg
  • Do this for 3 sets of 10 on each side

Safety Tips

While injury risk is low when using ankle weights, there are still some safety factors to consider. The extra weight can add stress to your joints, which in moderation is beneficial. However, be mindful that ankle weights are best used to target specific muscle groups and should be used in conjunction with other fitness methods such as dumbbells, body weight training, and cardiovascular exercise.

If you are a beginner, try incorporating ankle weights as you get stronger from using your own body weight. Increase weight slowly to avoid overuse injuries. If you have any pain in your ankles, knees, or hips, you may want to avoid using ankle weights or decrease your weight. If you are pregnant, injured, or recovering from an injury, always check with a healthcare professional before starting any new exercise routine.

A Word From Verywell

Ankle weights are an excellent way to beef up your already existing workout or add some light weight and challenge to a new one. Just like starting anything new, it is important to ensure you are doing the moves correctly to prevent injury and get the most out of the workout. Consult a physical therapist or personal trainer if you have questions or are experiencing any pain. Always listen to your healthcare professional if you have any existing or previous injuries and talk to them if you are experiencing any pain from the movement.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Is it good to walk with ankle weights?

    Ankle weights are generally not recommended for brisk walking. They can increase the number of calories you burn while walking, but there is a risk of straining your ankle joints and leg muscles. It is better to include ankle weights in your strength training routine with specific movements to target muscle groups.

  • How do beginners use ankle weights?

    Beginners should start with 1 lb weights on each ankle and increase very slowly. They should start with some simple moves a few times a week until they are comfortable with the new weight and start to build strength.

  • Are ankle weights good for abs?

    Ankle weights are a good addition to ab exercises to target lower abs and oblique muscles and force your core to work extra hard. They are great for leg lifts, V-ups, and bicycle crunches.

7 Sources
Verywell Fit uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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  2. Hwang JW, Lee SK, Park JS, Ahn SH, Lee KJ, Lee SJ. The effects of ankle weight loading on the walking factors of adults without symptomsJ Exerc Rehabil. 2017;13(4):425-429. Published 2017 Aug 29. doi:10.12965/jer.1734954.477

  3. Yaacob NM, Yaacob NA, Ismail AA, et al. Dumbbells and ankle-wrist weight training leads to changes in body composition and anthropometric parameters with potential cardiovascular disease risk reduction. J Taibah Univ Med Sci. 2016;11(5):439-447. doi:10.1016/j.jtumed.2016.06.005

  4. de Vries J, Ischebeck BK, Voogt LP, et al. : Joint position sense error in people with neck pain: a systematic reviewMan Ther, 2015, 20: 736–744. doi:10.1016/j.math.2015.04.015

  5. Kim S, Jung D, Han J, Jung J. Effects of wearing ankle weight on knee joint repositioning sense in the elderlyJ Phys Ther Sci. 2016;28(9):2434-2436. doi:10.1589/jpts.28.2434

  6. Pasqualini L, Ministrini S, Lombardini R, et al. Effects of a 3-month weight-bearing and resistance exercise training on circulating osteogenic cells and bone formation markers in postmenopausal women with low bone massOsteoporos Int. 2019;30(4):797-806. doi:10.1007/s00198-019-04908-9

  7. Park JH, Hwangbo G, Kim JS. The Effect of Treadmill-based Incremental Leg Weight Loading Training on the Balance of Stroke PatientsJ Phys Ther Sci. 2014;26(2):235-237. doi:10.1589/jpts.26.235

By Rebecca Jaspan, MPH, RD, CDN, CDCES
Rebecca Jaspan is a registered dietitian specializing in anorexia, binge eating disorder, and bulimia, as well as disordered eating and orthorexia.